A. Stouraiti_Book cover_2023

The Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies supports more than a dozen fellows each year who conduct intensive research at Princeton. Former Seeger fellows have published hundreds of books with leading publishers and thousands of articles. Their scholarship reflects the broad, interdisciplinary nature of Hellenic Studies, spanning fields from history to religion to literature and periods from antiquity to the present.

In the April 9, 2024, edition of Director’s Bookshelf, Seeger Center Director Dimitri Gondicas speaks with cultural historian Anastasia Stouraiti about War, Communication, and the Politics of Culture in Early Modern Venice, published by Cambridge University Press in January 2023. A specialist in the history of the Republic of Venice and its Mediterranean empire, Stouraiti is a senior lecturer in Early Modern History at Goldsmiths, University of London. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the Seeger Center in 2004-05. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

How did this book project begin?  

This book has its roots in Venice, where my dissertation on the seventeenth-century Venetian conquest of the Peloponnese led me to the manuscript and rare books collections of the Querini Stampalia Library. I worked on an exhibition at the Querini Stampalia, experiencing an eye-opening encounter with fascinating sources. This work inspired a very different way of seeing Venetian castles and monuments that were familiar features of my childhood in Euboea – itself a former Venetian colony (Negroponte). A couple of simple questions set the project in motion: How did war and imperial rivalry with the Ottomans shape the Republic of Venice, a state still celebrated today as a peace-loving republic of merchants? What is the connection between military occupation and colonial rule, on the one hand, and the culture and knowledge production of the society that participates in these practices, on the other? 

Please tell us about your time at the Seeger Center and the research you conducted then.

My year at the Seeger Center was a period of joy, growth, and learning. I spent most of my time reading, writing, and attending talks and seminars. I conducted research related to revising sections of my Ph.D. thesis. In addition, I worked on a joint project on the imaginative geographies of the European South, which was later published in German. Throughout this period, my research profited immensely from the many smart and kind people I met at the Seeger Center. The intellectual stimulation and positive energy radiating from the Seeger Center will stay with me forever.

How did that research impact your work as a whole and this book project? 

Delving into comparative imperial studies and anti-colonial methodologies during my Seeger fellowship made me intensely aware of the profound impact that Venetian colonialism in the Aegean and Ionian seas had on Venetian cultural history. I started to think of Edward Said’s critique of imperial knowledge and its relevance to premodern studies. My current project continues the critical investigation of Venetian media and communication through the lens of empire. I am still committed to understanding the relationship between Venetian republicanism and imperial naval power, and cultural institutions are still crucial to my argument because culture works to naturalize difference, obfuscate violence, and justify domination. As the legendary filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard said, “Culture is an alibi of imperialism.”

What would you like your readers to learn?

Historians often consider ourselves fortunate when our books intersect with topics in the news. I would not mind at all if War, Communication, and the Politics of Culture in Early Modern Venice were less topical. Colonial histories are active forces shaping the twenty-first century. The perspective of military power tends to dominate media coverage, building consent for horrors that confront us today. We like to pretend that we’ve made significant progress in how we treat archaeological sites and artifacts, as if the destruction caused by early modern armies – for instance, the Venetian bombardment of the Parthenon in 1687 – belongs to a bygone era. But it doesn’t. It is completely present in our contemporary moment. History teaches caution about grandiloquent claims that humanity can learn from the so-called lessons of the past.

A transformative journey to Greece inspired Stanley J. Seeger to found Hellenic Studies programs at Princeton. Please tell us about a journey that expanded your intellectual horizons or influenced your research. 

The European Union’s Erasmus graduate scholarship program allowed me to study in Venice, opening the world to me. This formative experience grounded my intellectual development and made me fall passionately in love with Italian art, literature, and culture. I found it particularly sad when the U.K. exited the Erasmus+ program after leaving the European Union. These scholarships provide wonderful opportunities for lower-income young people to study and travel in Europe.

Photo of Dimitri Gondicas by Sameer A. Khan/Fotobuddy.

To read previous Director’s Bookshelf interviews, please visit our archive.

To learn more about books by members of the Princeton Seeger Center academic community, please visit our Publications page.